Ars Poetica XI: A work of art is always part person




… we do not treat artworks the way we treat forks or chairs.[…] because it carries the traces of a living consciousness and unconsciousness, and it is invested with that being’s vitality. A work of art is always part person. Therefore the experience of art is interpersonal or intersubjective. In art, the relation established is between a person and a part-person-part-thing. It is never between a per­son and just a thing. It is the aliveness we give to art that allows us to make powerful emotional attachments to it.


Louise Bourgeois in her home studio in 1974

Louise Bourgeois wrote, “The final achievement is really communication with a person. And I fail to get there.”[…] the words “communication with a person” situate Bourgeois’ work squarely in a dialogical mode; that is, she speaks to the reality that art is always made for the other, an imaginary other, it is true, but an other nevertheless. Art is a reaching toward, a bid to be seen and understood and recognized by another. It involves a form of transference.


My Louise Bourgeois understood the need, the burning compulsion, to translate real experience into passionate symbols. The experience that must be translated is deep and old. It is made of memory, both conscious and unconscious. It is of the body, female and male, male-female, and whether the artworks are made from the letters of the alphabet or from fabric, steel, plaster, glass, stone, lead, or iron, they are vehicles of communication for an imaginary other, the one who will look and listen.


Siri Hustvedt (1955) holds a PhD in English literature from Columbia University and is the internationally acclaimed author of six novels, four books of essays and a nonfiction work.

Louise Joséphine Bourgeois (1911 – 2010) was a French-American artist. Best known for her large-scale sculpture and installation art, Bourgeois was also a prolific painter and printmaker. She explored a variety of themes over the course of her long career including domesticity and the family, sexuality and the body, as well as death and the subconscious. Although Bourgeois exhibited with the Abstract Expressionists and her work has much in common with Surrealism and Feminist art, she was not formally affiliated with a particular artistic movement.

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